The city of Wichita Falls has more than 50 murder and missing person cases that are currently unsolved. In the first installment of our new digital series, Unraveling the Mysteries, we look at the story of two men who were found murdered more than two decades ago.
“On the intersection of Galveston and Old Jacksboro Highway investigation continues as the bodies of two men are found and we do not know if there’s any foul play,” former KFDX reporter Frances Rivera said during a live report the night of the murder.
“I’d been on the department about five years and at that time I was assigned to what was called the Tac Unit,” WFPD Sgt. Charlie Eipper said. “We actually were doing three different missions, the tactical unit which was more property crimes, the gang unit, so we handled all of the gang investigations and suppression and SWAT.”
“Well, at that point the reason why we had the Gang Unit in the first place because there was a lot of gang activity,” Eipper said. “So, we were doing a lot of that kind of investigation. We were out suppressing their activity as well. There was the regular property crimes that were going on, car burglaries, house burglaries, building burglaries, we were investigating those and looking for suspects to help the detectives to get those cases ready for prosecution.”
“Alton Bragg or Leon, he went by Leon, owned a gun shop over on 304 Galveston St. and as was custom he went in in the morning to open the shop and there was nothing unusual about that,” current Gun Shop murders investigator Det. John Laughlin said. “A friend of his, Hugh McDaniel, who was a customer there had dropped off a weapon to be repaired. Hugh was in the process of completing physical therapy from some heart surgery that he had recently. So, this was kind of like his first day to get back out and around. He planned on going by the gun shop to visit Leon and pick up his weapon. When Hugh’s wife hadn’t heard from him during the day like she expected to she became concerned because of his previous medical issues. So, she started checking around for him. After talking with some friends and associates that know one another it was mentioned, ‘hey we saw his truck over at the gun shop maybe he’s over there.’ They went over but when they got there the business was locked up, his truck was in the parking lot and it was very odd so they called the police.”
“When we pulled up the gate was pulled shut,” first investigator on the Gun Shop murder case,” William Rutledge said. “Their front doors were shut, there was nothing out of the ordinary, just like it was in any other business day. Mr. Bragg’s car was actually parked to the left of the gate and Mr. McDaniel’s vehicle was parked to the right of the gate so there was nothing that stood out of the ordinary. Just like any other business day for that business.”
“The day itself was a beautiful day,” daughter of Leon Bragg,” Angela Culley said. “I mean it was great weather, I was home with the kids, it was my day off.”
“We were having a good experience with the kids and my mom,” Culley said. “Then when we got the call it just changed everything.”
“Inside of this gun shop you see behind me as you can see the investigators and witnesses are still trying to gather that information,” former KFDX reporter Frances Rivera said during a live report the night of the murder. “But this is what we know so far, witnesses say they believe one of the two men is the owner of the Gun Shop behind me. The other man found as well, maybe that of Hugh McDaniel.”
“When you first walked in was kind of the working area,” Rutledge said. “Where he had some guns on display and worked with customers. He had a cash register there and then off to the side was kind of his gun smithing room and they were both back in the gun smithing room.”
“It was surreal because you just thought this is not what happens to us in here, in our community,” Culley said. “That’s just not what happens. So, I just really felt like that was wrong information. So, I had the kids with me. I was cooking dinner. I stopped cooking dinner and called someone to come take care of the kids and went and unfortunately it was true.”
“I was actually at a Bible study class when it was brought up and I heard about it,” Eipper said. “It’s not that we hadn’t had one since I had been on the department because we had but anytime we have two or more that are killed at once, it is, it is a shock. It just takes you beyond what you think is normal.”
“It’s a whirlwind between the emotions and because it was a murder case, the media was everywhere, everyone was asking questions and police, everyone was being questioned,” Culley said.
“Well as the clock runs down hour by hour, family and friends of two men left for dead at the Gun Shop yesterday in Wichita Falls are left to wonder why and how their loved ones died,” excerpt from a live show one day after the Gun Shop murders. “As we told you, Leon Bragg and Hugh McDaniel were both found dead at the Gun Shop around 6:00. Earlier today police continued their investigation of the crime scene and sent off evidence to the lab for processing. For now, though, the crime is pretty much a guessing game.”
“It was confirmed from the district attorney that they may or may not have been shot, but they were both bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer,” friend of the victims Joe Tom White said in an interview a day after the murder. “It took a cold cruel individual to do that. that person needs to be off the streets, he’s walkin around free right now.”
“The gunshot theory came up because when people saw through the window that they were injured at a gun shop then they just put two and two together in their own mind and thought they must have been shot,” Laughlin said. “There’s no evidence to indicate either one of these men were shot at all. They were injured with blunt force trauma, that was shared a long time ago from the beginning and that would be in the autopsy report that that was their cause of death would have been blunt force trauma.”
“We were helping with just some surveillance, chasing down leads because there were a lot of leads coming in,” Eipper said. “So, the detectives would give us things to go look for and lookup people and see if we can find alibis, find where they were during that time when the murders occurred. There was so much going on we really didn’t have an idea.”
“In June 1998 police named Christopher Ledesma as their prime suspect,” excerpt from a report from two years after the Gun Shop murder. “Ledesma is a convicted murderer who is in jail now but was out on bond during the time of the beating. His family says he was with them that day in February and police say they do not have enough evidence for an arrest.”
“The original tip on him was a Crime Stoppers tip,” Rutledge said. “During that time frame, he was preparing to go to trial for murder. He was later convicted for that murder. There was a weapon in the gun shop that was brought in by, I think, a family member and there was some speculation about that weapon. That was all cleared out. We investigated it. Actually, I went to the TDC and talked to him once he was convicted of that.”
“A hole just because you don’t have that closure and you always wonder,” Culley said. “I mean, you have suspicions and quite honestly in the early years there were times when you kind of look at people that maybe you didn’t see every day that came into your life later at a strange time maybe made a comment and it makes you kind of wonder. Did they know something, you know whatever? You just have to get past that because if you don’t it festers and it boils and you become angry people.”
“We know the police and the detectives were working and doing their job but you want to be a part too because you just think surely there’s something we know that they can’t find or they can’t do,” Culley said. “So, you do ask people, did you know of anyone who they had an argument with and honestly we came up dry. There was nothing. That’s why it’s even more confusing. There just doesn’t seem to be any. Nothing was missing, nothing. The store wasn’t ransacked it’s just, I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever know.”
“Do I have ill feeling towards whoever did it? Absolutely, but I can’t because I don’t want to teach that to my kids either,” Culley said. “I want to live life. I want to have a full life and you have to move forward and I know daddy would want that. He would not one us to just bury in all of the grief, all of the bad that happened that day. He of all people and that’s part of what was the strangest thing for us because you know, there’s always been so many thoughts of well somebody came into rob him but we really didn’t see anything stolen that we could tell. But, my dad, I don’t care who you were, he would have given you his last dollar. He would have given you the clothes off his back. That’s just who my dad was. So, I never believed that was the case. That’s why this makes it so perplexing and confusing is to wonder why someone do that.”
“I have read reports that have been accomplished by criminal profilers and some of their hypothesis and ideas are consistent with this could have been someone that was passing through town or was here but left shortly after the offense occurred and that’s why it’s been so hard to kind of get onto them as a suspect because they aren’t in the area anymore,” Laughlin said. “For whatever reason whether they passed away, whether they moved away, whether they were incarcerated, there’s all kinds of reasons why that may be. I don’t believe that there is somebody around that’s personally responsible for the offense that’s still across the street or going there on a regular basis or anything like that. I think the previous investigators most assuredly would have uncovered that if that was the case.”
“I believe there is evidence in this case that if given the proper lead, absolutely we can identify the responsible parties because I do think we have some solid evidence that would corroborate an identification, scientifically,” Laughlin said.
“We have closure in our own way,” Culley said. “I mean you have to deal with the loss and you have to move forward so you find a way to deal with that grief. The closure that’s not there is not the fact of losing him, it’s the why? You know, we’ve had to deal with the how and we’ve learned to accept that and move forward. It’s just the why and the confusing of why and wondering, you know it’s always the what if? Could something have been done differently or whatever but I hope we’ll have that closure, honestly though as the years go past, I don’t. I lose that hope a little bit but then you’ll see a news story where somebody, 20, 25, 30 years later something breaks in the case or somebody on their deathbed confesses. You know, you never know where that information will come from.”
We reached out to the family of Hugh McDaniel and they declined to comment but the WFPD did want to emphasize they are doing everything they can to solve this case and feel any information could help.
If you have any information that could help detectives, call Crime Stoppers, 24-hours a day. You never have to give your name, and if the information leads to the arrest and board approval, you could earn up to $10,000 since this is a cold-case homicide.